Most Stolen Books

We’re used to seeing lists of bestsellers, lists of most borrowed, most read by priests who ride motorbikes (ok, I made that last one up), but here’s the low-down on a different kind of book economy: most stolen. This strikes me as an obvious and overlooked measure of a book or writer’s importance. When you think about it, stealability is how the value of things such as cars, jewelry, iPods and bicycles is measured. In the case of books though, the list of ‘most stolen’ is far from obvious. As Paul Constant reports in Seattle’s The Stranger:

There’s an underground economy of boosted books. These values are commonly understood and roundly agreed upon through word of mouth, and the values always seem to be true. Once, a scruffy, large man approached me, holding a folded-up piece of paper. "Do you have any Buck?" He paused and looked at the piece of paper. "Any books by Buckorsick?" I suspected that he meant Bukowski, but I played dumb, and asked to see the piece of paper he was holding. It was written in crisp handwriting that clearly didn’t belong to him, and it read:

[… more]

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6 thoughts on “Most Stolen Books”

  1. I don’t know whether it’s still the case, but I remember reading a few years ago that Terry Pratchett was the UK’s most shoplifted author. This was pre-Harry Potter madness though, so it’s conceivably JK Rowling now.

    Would be interested in finding out though!

  2. I think it’s a great accolade, on a par with illegal download traffic as a measure of musical influence. I’m assuming the graphic novels (at number 5) are those paperback editions, rather than the enormous ACME Novelty Library editions of Chris Ware; you’d need a suitcase for those.

    It would be extremely interesting to know how this has changed over the years. Were people half inching slim volumes of poetry during WW1?

  3. Usually law-abiding, I can’t get rid of the thought that if you really want a book, you should go ahead and steal it. No one else wants it — have a look around — is anyone even vaguely tempted? No, they want the coffee and Amy Winehouse CDs. Why wait for the paperback edition? This handsome thing will sit here for months unattended by all, and then get sent back to the publisher to the great discouragement of the writer. Take it — set it free — read the bugger.

    If it turns out to be as good as you hope it is, you can always write to the author and own up, send a bit of cash and some words of appreciation.

    WARNING: theft is Against the Law and the staff will try to prevent your act of liberation and joy in mankind.

  4. PS. Fair play (and conscience) kicking in: the writer in Seattle’s The Stranger is right. Best to go for the corporate sellers rather than the independent guy.

  5. Paul Constant’s piece reminded me of my days helping out at an independent bookstore in the late 1980s. There, too, Bukowski’s were the most-stolen titles–a specialty item, clearly. But I’m remembering impressively unkempt twin brothers who haunted Bobst Library at New York University, oh, for decades and carried greasy brown shopping bags in which they must have been hauling away books at a steady clip. Recently I saw one of the boys somewhere in the city and almost hailed him, but how? Discretion seemed to be the better part of something or other. And he was carrying a shopping bag

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